Polls indicate casino repeal is in trouble

2 surveys have initiative losing by 15, 23 points

They haven’t spent a penny yet, but pro-gambling forces seem to be pulling away in the battle over a ballot initiative that will decide the fate of casinos in Massachusetts.

Two polls released on Wednesday indicate voters are strongly opposed to a ballot question that would do away with casinos. One poll, conducted by UMass Lowell and 7News, indicates opponents of the ballot question outnumber supporters by 59-36 percent, a margin of 23 points. The other poll, by WBUR and the MassINC Polling Group, indicates the casino question is losing by a margin of 52-37 percent, or 15 points.

The two polls suggest support for casino gambling is returning to the levels seen prior to this year, before controversy erupted over the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s handling of the licensing process for a Greater Boston casino. This spring, several polls indicated support for casino gaming had begun to soften. A WBUR/MassINC poll in March had the gap at 3 points. In June, a Suffolk University poll indicated opponents of casino gambling had the upper hand, on top by 10 points. But since June, polls have fairly consistently indicated that voters favor retaining casino gambling by a margin of about 10 points.

Joshua Dyck, an associate professor of political science at UMass Lowell and the codirector of the school’s Center for Public Opinion, said the latest polling data suggest the casino question will likely be defeated in November. The data indicate Democrats, Republicans, and unenrolled voters all favor retaining the existing gaming law, although support among Democrats is the weakest. The WBUR/MassINC poll had Democrats in favor of the existing gaming law by a 9-point margin, while the margin among unenrolled voters was 16 points and among Republicans 26 points.

There is no gender divide on the casino issue, but there is something of an age split. Younger voters, particularly those in the 18 to 40 age range, strongly favor retaining the existing law, while support is weakest among older voters, particularly those over 60.

“The yes side has really got to make up a lot of ground and all the dynamics of this race suggests that’s going to be difficult,” Dyck said. “I will be really, really surprised if this passes.”

Dyck said the pro-casino side has nearly all the advantages on its side. Backed by many of the developers seeking to build casinos in Massachusetts, Dyck said the pro-casino side should have more money at its disposal to wage a campaign. He also said historical data nationally suggest ballot questions pass only 40 percent of the time. Moreover, he said, those pushing for a no vote on a ballot question tend to have better success because it’s easier to convince someone to vote no and preserve the status quo.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The gaming industry in Massachusetts is also beginning to take shape after a long regulatory process. A slots parlor in Plainville is already under construction, MGM Grand has been designated the developer for a Springfield casino, and the Greater Boston casino licensee is scheduled to be named next week.

The group pushing repeal of the state’s gaming law issued a statement saying voters are only beginning to focus on the November elections. “We’re confident that our statewide, grassroots campaign will reach the voters we need to propel us to victory this fall,” said the statement from Repeal the Casino Deal. “With the high-profile support of Elizabeth Warren for repeal announced just this week, we expect to build momentum throughout Massachusetts to vote yes and stop the casino mess.”